Skip to main content

Full text of "My country and my people"

See other formats

thought, and was against Hitprecieusc style of writing. But after that good prose became almost impossible. The terseness and refinement which the literary language had come to may be seen in the following Life of Mr. Wu Liu (Five Willows] by T'ao Ytianming (A.D. 327-427), supposed to be a portrait of himself, in exactly one hundred and twenty-five Chinese words3 and held up as a literary model:
Mr. [Wu Liu] is a native of I don't know what place. His name and surname, too, are unknown. There are five willows by his house: hence the title. He is quiet and talks very little. [He] does not care for money or fame. [He] likes to read books, without trying to know their exact meaning. Whenever he appreciates [a passage], he is so happy as to forget about his food. He loves wine, but, being poor, cannot always provide it. His friends and relatives know this fact and they sometimes ask him to come over for a drink. He always finishes the wine, and makes up his mind to be drank. After he gets drunk, he retires, and does not mind where he finds himself. His walls are bare and do not shelter him from wind or sunshine! He wears a short jacket of flax-cloth in tatters, and his rice-bowl is always empty. But he does not care. He often writes to amuse himself and indicates his ambition in life, and forgets all about the worldly successes or failures. He dies like that.
That is dainty prose, but not good prose, according to our definition. It is an absolute proof that the language was dead. Suppose one were compelled to read only prose of this type, where the characterization is the vaguest, the facts are the flimsiest, and the narration the barest—what would happen to one's intellectual content?
This leads to a more important consideration of the intellectual content of Chinese prose works. If one picks up any "Collected Works" of a writer, with which Chinese libraries and book stores abound (these always forming the largest division in Chinese catalogues), and examines its contents, one has the feeling of being lost in a desert of essays, sketches* biographies, prefaces, postscripts, ceremonial writings, official